This letter is a case in point.
They were everything I expected and more. It is infuriating to read a book making one horrible argument after the other.
There are many theories of ethics in existence today 2. The ones that came after Aristotelianism have failed to objectively ground themselves and create a perfect society in which everyone agrees on a foundation for morality 4.
Because we cannot settle these by rational argument, instead we turn to outrage and attempts to shame our opponents, making the protester one of the archetypal figures of the modern world. It starts grating after a while. I broadly agree with him about this problem.
I discuss it pretty explicitly in sections 6. I propose as the solution some form of utilitarianism, the only moral theory in which everything is commensurable and so there exists a single determinable standard for deciding among different moral claims.
Annnnnd MacIntyre decides to go with virtue ethics. The interesting thing about virtue ethics is that it is uniquely bad at this problem. You can attach a virtue or several virtues of either side of practically any moral dilemma, and virtue ethics says exactly nothing about how to balance out those conflicting duties.
In fact, I dislike it more than almost anyone I know except maybe Federico. But I will give credit where credit is due: The solutions are wildly incorrect and incredibly harmful, but they get a gold star for effort.
Did you even consider just being a virtuous city-state in which everyone is a great-minded soul acting for the good of the polis? In fact, the beginning of the book is a fascinating and attractive metaphor drawn from the excellent A Canticle For Leibowitz in which all scientific knowledge is destroyed by some apocalypse.
To MacIntyre, the tradition here is virtue ethics and modern society plays the role of the postapocalyptics looking quizzically over the scraps.
The Enlightenment, of course. Just once I want to go a whole week without someone blaming everything on the Enlightenment. Alasdair MacIntyre is clearly an expert classical scholar.
I agree — it is a perfect moral dilemma — of exactly the sort MacIntyre is claiming only exists because our civilization is living in the postapocalyptic ruins of virtue ethics.
And Philoctetes was written twenty years before Aristotle was even born. Heck, forget Sophocles, even Socrates is a perfect example of this kind of moral inquiry. MacIntyre then waxes about the wonder of the Greek city-states, which he says were communities where everyone was united on a single view of the good — that which was the proper telos of man.
Except, once again, all the problems of the modern age appear in the Greek city-states as well. Athens went from the laws of Solon to the tyranny of Peisistratus to the dictatorship of Hippias to the democracy of Cleisthenes to the oligarchy of the Four Hundred to the Thirty Tyrants to the democracy of Thrasybulus all in about a century.
The periods of democracy were as rife with hostile factions and unresolved issues as any period in modern America or Europe.I would guess the progressive paradox of intelligence being nurture not nature is the strong linking of intelligence, education, and morality in their world view.
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